Downtown Eastside

Social enterprises bring $73.7m value to Downtown Eastside community

Our mission is to create healthy communities and to provide a safe, compassionate, and supportive work environment that promotes inclusion and helps build a stronger community.

Shelley Bolton, Senior Manager and Chocolate Maker at East Van Roaster

December 20 2019 –

A new report has revealed that social enterprises in the Downtown Eastside (DTES) are not only bringing revenue into the area, but also having a significant positive impact for residents.

The Downtown Eastside Social Enterprise Impact Report 2019 (6 MB) which was produced by Buy Social, identified 75 business based in the DTES area which vary from shops and restaurants to groups that work to reduce refuse and improve sustainability. Between them, these organizations have created 2,800 jobs and generated more than $26m in sales – much of which has been reinvested into the area.

Social enterprises are businesses that focus on community value and reinvest a minimum of 50% of their profits for that purpose and it was found that in the DTES every $1 invested in a business brings $4 in social return. 

One of the key benefits of this model is that it provides employment to people who often face barriers such as a disability, addictions, or lack of educational supports. The study found that 55% of full-time and 90% of part-time workers employed by DTES social enterprises reported facing barriers to employment.

East Van Roasters

East Van Roasters, which is one of four social enterprises operating out of the ground floor of the PHS Community Services Society’s Rainier Hotel, employs women who live in social housing above their premises. 

Speaking about the business and its purpose Shelley Bolton, Senior Manager and Chocolate Maker at East Van Roaster, said: “Our mission is to create healthy communities and to provide a safe, compassionate, and supportive work environment that promotes inclusion and helps build a stronger community. 

We believe in promoting equality and being intentional about the resources we use. I have witnessed a significant impact that supportive employment opportunities have on the lives of the people in our program and their families”.

As well as creating the initial low-barrier employment opportunities, social enterprises also utilize local knowledge of the community, provide training and education to their staff, help reduce hunger and health issues and can lead to more stable housing situations.

As a result of the work of social enterprises in the Downtown Eastside, 88% of people involved in this work reported that their life had improved but the impact goes far beyond the individual. The Buy Social report highlights a multiplier effect that benefits the whole community with up to 71.6% of revenue generated being returned to the local economy, compared to 13.6% of national chain store revenue.


Another organization that is leading the way in Vancouver is EMBERS which runs two employment creation programs.  

EMBERS Eastside Works, which received funding from the City to help them address income, affordability, and employment in the DTES, has helped more than 50 residents to re-enter the workforce and earn income through programs such as Park Stewardship and Community Film Ambassador. 

EMBERS also operates an national award winning social enterprise, EMBERS Staffing Solutions, a temporary employment agency that provides transitional jobs for people on low incomes getting back on their feet and transitioning into the workforce. Most of the jobs are in the construction sector and this year EMBERS Staffing Solutions has placed 1900 workers on job sites and paid over $8.5 million in wages and benefits to workers in the community, as well as providing certified training to help up skill their workers. 

Marcia Nozick, CEO and Founder of EMBERS, said: “We have seen people completely turn their lives around because of the power of work and getting support along the way. Working builds confidence and a sense of self-worth." 

DTES Street Market

Other initiatives that the City has supported include the DTES Street Market which was initiated in 2010 and offers a safe space for vending and income generation for low-income DTES residents.

The market is made up of 200 licensed vendors each week selling a diverse range of items including local arts and crafts. Vendors are connected to services and other employment opportunities that meet their needs.

Social value procurement framework

In 2015, the City became one of the first municipalities in Canada to commit to social procurement when they adopted a social value procurement framework (741 KB) that leverages City spending to improve economic equity and while contributing to broader outcomes related to City strategies, goals, and priorities.

So, if you’re still looking for Christmas presents this year that make an impact that last beyond December 25, look no further than the Downtown Eastside.